CIA will carry on in wake of Petraeus affair

Now that both David Petraeus and John Allen have joined Stanley McChrystal and Kip Ward as being among our nation’s most trusted and revered four-star generals in recent times to fall into scandals damaging the military brand, the question now is, “what’s next?” 

Regardless of whether there’s a Democrat or Republican at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the military and intelligence community must be held accountable by our nation’s elected leadership.

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In Petraeus’s case, his resignation as CIA director came after an abrupt announcement that he’d had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, notably just three days after the presidential election and six days before his scheduled congressional testimony on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The timing remains most curious, and questions about who knew what and when will likely remain newsworthy topics. Recent revelations that the FBI’s months-long investigation of Petraeus was known on the Hill even in October had to make it one of Washington’s best-kept secrets.

As to his replacement, plenty of rumors are swirling about, though for now Michael Morell, the CIA’s deputy director and a career agent, will lead the organization as the acting director. 

One top candidate for the job is Michael Vickers, the under secretary of Defense for Intelligence under the Obama administration and assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) in the Bush administration. Others reportedly in the mix include Jane Harman, a former California congresswoman who was the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and John Brennan, the White House chief counterterrorism and homeland security adviser.

Allen’s nomination to head NATO and the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) has been placed on hold, per Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s request. Coincidentally, Allen had been scheduled to be in Washington this week for Senate confirmation hearings. Though he has not been charged with anything, 20,000 or 30,000 pages of email exchanges with Jill Kelley, a Tampa Bay-area Central Command-socialite, would likely sink that from ever happening. 

The irony of Kelley’s informal complaint to an FBI friend about threatening emails sent from Broadwell eventually taking down both Petraeus and Allen is frankly astounding. The story wouldn’t even make the cut in Hollywood.

Regarding Allen’s pending replacement in Afghanistan as commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Dunford remains in line for the job. Both four-stars will remain in their posts for now, until DOD completes its sure to be drama-filled investigation. 

Who will replace Navy Adm. James Stavridis, currently commanding NATO and the U.S. European Command, is anybody’s guess. He’ll most likely continue in Brussels for a while, as the so-called “daisy chain” of replacements gets sorted out at the Pentagon, White House and in Congress.

Despite all the chaos and tarnished reputations, very little will actually change in Afghanistan. The administration’s timetable for a 2014 withdrawal remains the plan, while U.S. forces continue the daunting task of turning over security to Afghan forces and taking better precautions against “green-on-blue” attacks, in which Taliban infiltrators within the Afghan police and military turn their guns on our men and women. 

What’s perhaps more interesting than Afghanistan is what will happen in places like Benghazi, and seeing Team Obama’s plan going forward to prevent terrorist attacks against our diplomatic posts in similarly vulnerable Middle Eastern locales. 

It will be also fascinating to see Petraeus appear before Congress as a private citizen. He’ll have a chance to explain earlier testimony echoing the White House party line of a “spontaneous reaction” to an obscure video watched by practically no one for the attack on Sept. 11 — despite evidence from his Libya station chief days earlier that it was, in fact, a coordinated terrorist attack.

Though Petraeus, Allen, McChrystal and Ward all served our country brilliantly for close to a combined 150 years in uniform, the scandals are hurting the military’s credibility. Sure, famous and likewise heroic predecessors in WWII like Gens. Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur were also thought to have done “inappropriate” things, but most remained well-kept secrets.

Though times have changed, people have not. Given today’s 24/7 news cycle, the advent of social media, email and the universal presence of PDAs and smartphones, combined with society’s eroded barriers for protocol and personal space, four-star generals and admirals are under the same magnifying glass as top politicians, star athletes, movie stars and musicians. For better or worse, privacy has all but vanished for public figures. They would do well to keep that in mind.

Gordon is a retired Navy commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009. He has been a senior fellow and communications consultant to several Washington, D.C.-based think tanks since leaving the Defense Department.